Pulse 71: No Fixed Limit to the Human Lifespan

3 July 2018
Giulio Prisco

Centenarian

New research results released last week don’t support the idea that humans have a fixed expiration date — no hardwired lifespan limit. On the contrary, death rates seem to level out at 105 (see below). The findings have been widely covered by the press.

"Our data tell us that there is no fixed limit to the human lifespan yet in sight," said senior researcher Kenneth Wachter. "Not only do we see mortality rates that stop getting worse with age, we see them getting slightly better over time."

“If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity,” said an expert who was not involved in the study, as reported by Scientific American. If the odds of dying don’t increase over time, noted another expert, interventions that slow aging are likely to make a difference, even in the extremely old.

Death rates level out at 105. Scientists at UC Berkeley and Rome University have found that death rates level out at 105. A study of extremely old Italians, published in Science, challenges previous research that claims the human lifespan has a final cut-off point. The researchers tracked the death trajectories of nearly 4,000 residents of Italy who were aged 105 and older between 2009 and 2015. They found that the chances of survival for these longevity warriors plateaued once they made it past 105. People between the ages of 105 and 109 have a 50/50 chance of dying within the year and an expected further life span of 1.5 years.

Genetically modified poliovirus therapy helps recurrent brain cancer patients. Researchers at Duke Cancer Institute have developed a genetically modified poliovirus therapy that could improve long-term survival for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor. The therapy includes a genetically modified form of the poliovirus vaccine, which is infused directly into the brain tumor via a surgically implanted catheter. The modified virus preferentially zeroes in on tumor cells, igniting a targeted immune response. A study published in Science Translational Medicine reports the first promising clinical trial results of the poliovirus therapy, showing 21 percent three year survival.

Molecular structure of tissue elasticity agent found. Scientists at MIT and the Universities of Sydney and Manchester have decoded the molecular structure of a protein molecule called tropoelastin, which allows living tissues to expand, contract, stretch, and bend throughout a lifetime. Remarkably, the tropoelastin molecule can be stretched to eight times its length and always returns back to its original size. A research paper published in PNAS shows how certain different disease-causing mutations in the single gene that controls the formation of tropoelastin change the molecule’s stiffness and dynamic responses, which could ultimately help in the design of treatments or countermeasures for some medical conditions.

Profiling patients for successful cancer immunotherapy. Researchers at UC San Francisco have identified a key biological pathway in human cancer patients that appears to prime the immune system for a successful response to immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. According to the scientists, the research results, published in Nature Medicine, could enable clinicians to predict which patients will naturally benefit from these promising new treatments, and potentially to modify the immune response in other patients to allow more people to benefit from these therapies.

Near-perfect artificial T cells for new cancer therapies. Scientists at UC Los Angeles have developed synthetic T lymphocytes, or T cells, that are near-perfect facsimiles of human T cells. A study published in Advanced Materials describes how the researchers were able to replicate the T cell's shape, size, and flexibility, which enable it to perform its basic functions of targeting and homing in on infections. According to the scientists, the artificial cell could be a key step toward more effective drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases and could lead to a better understanding of human immune cell behavior.

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